Leeds United second only to Liverpool when it comes to scoring first and picking up points

There are few guarantees in football – life in the Championship has taught Leeds United that.

Wednesday, 22nd January 2020, 6:00 am
Leeds United tend to win when they score the first goal, as they did at Birmingham City (Pic: Bruce Rollinson)

There is no guarantee that any signing will be a good one, that a good team will be successful or that a world renowned head coach will bring trophies.

There is no guarantee the striker the club hopes to sign in the next 10 days will be the right one, the man to add the firepower they need to support top goalscorer Patrick Bamford.

There is no guarantee, for whoever comes in, that they will start games.

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And there is no guarantee that Leeds won’t still go up, even if they don’t sign a forward.

But if the Whites score the first goal in a game, you can almost guarantee a win for Marcelo Bielsa’s men. A point is, at least, a pretty safe bet.

This season, there is only one other team in this country’s top four tiers who have picked up more points after scoring the first goal in league games.

Liverpool’s claim to that title is no surprise, given the way in which they are romping towards a Premier League title.

Jürgen Klopp’s Reds have earned 54 points from games in which they took the lead.

Leeds have taken 48 points from such situations. Last season they won 20 out of 22 matches having hit the net first and under Bielsa they have only ever lost twice after getting the first goal. In their first 28 matches of the 2019-20 campaign, they scored first 18 times.

It’s a fine habit to have made their own.

The watertight defence they showcased, at least until mid-December, was particularly helpful in ensuring other teams didn’t come back from behind.

The problem is that the goals have dried up, at least at one end of the pitch, and so too have the wins.

Leeds United have won one of their last eight games in all competitions.

A United player hasn’t scored in 366 minutes of Championship and FA Cup football – Stuart Dallas’ late goal at Birmingham was the last.

The winner in that crazy 5-4 win and Leeds’ equaliser at West Brom on New Year’s Day were both own goals, forced by Whites pressure of course.

The same relentless attacking football that brought a seven-game winning streak earlier in the season hasn’t vanished and Leeds still create chances by the bucketload.

At Queens Park Rangers, there were very good chances for Jack Harrison and Patrick Bamford.

There were also 11 corners that failed to bring a breakthrough.

And that is a theme, this season. It is a resource the Whites are not taking advantage of and something Bielsa himself pointed out after the game.

“Of course there are things we wished that were different, for example our set-pieces,” said the Argentine, who has had to address the issue before, this season.

The last time he spoke about it, when asked why Leeds didn’t take short corners, they scored from a short corner in the very next match.

But since the latest bid to escape the Championship kicked off, Leeds have earned more corners than any other team and the three goals that have resulted gives them the worst conversion rate [1.42 per cent] in the division.

Everyone can suggest a theory as to why this area is so problematic for Leeds. If the delivery doesn't beat the first man, you can forget goals - it often does however. Kalvin Phillips has delivered some wicked corners and free-kicks this season, to no avail.

They are not a big team, nor are they a side who rely on aerial prowess.

They are ball players, ball carriers, relentless runners with big engines, if not the biggest frames.

And, it must be said, even with their set-piece struggles, they have been outscored by only three sides in the table.

Millwall come to town next week in the knowledge that, should they go behind, life will be very difficult.

Only three teams have got a result at Elland Road this season having gone behind, and all three left with a point, not a victory.

Leeds are wasteful, from set-pieces and from open play and their inefficiency has long become an accepted part of the conversation around “Bielsaball” at Elland Road.

Bielsa does not appear to be a man who will accept an unsolved puzzle and settle for an untapped resource. Rest assured, it’s on his radar.

But for a team out of form and a team so good at winning when they score first, it matters little how the goals come against Millwall, so long as they do come. Even another scruffy own goal would do.